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Intellectual Property and Its Recombinant Taxes

Makes No Sense, But I'm The First to Say That

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, August 02, 2000.

Really, on the day of the delusional snore-fest in Philadelphia, the epitome of the Bush candidacy before he and his brain melt, on the day the Israeli cabinet goes to another crisis and a great chance for a semblance of peace in the Middle East goes goodbye, and on the day Kansas recouped a minimal level of respect by defeating three idiot religious nuts who had wanted to remove evolution from its school curriculum, I want to talk about the most pressing cultural and legal issue that absorbs us all. Which is to say Napster and competitors, and who owns music, and for that matter, who owns intellectual property. By which I mean: who owns thought once written down, recorded, performed?

Let's describe the competitors here. On the one hand, a bunch of drug addled non-entities who don't want to pay for concert tickets or performance and think they have the right to receive, as entertainers and composers have the obligation to provide, free music and shows for their enjoyment. These people love the concept of borrowing digital music, generally on compact disc, uploading it to the Web without quality loss, and downloading other offerings also without quality loss. In short, getting a free master recording of their favorite acts, or any acts. Most of this involves young people downloading N'Sync and Britney Spears, granted, so we are not discussing plunder of the Western world, but the implications are there that, for example, the works of great composers, DVD movies, and performances would go up and people would receive free performance, the artists would get no payment and be forced to fall back on that chemistry degree to keep the funds for drugs adequate.

On the other hand, we have the artists as represented by their contractual representatives, the record companies, distributors, and publishers and their associates. It is a mathematical certainty that the majority of the millions of songs offered each year are not original. We only have twelve tones in the music system, and restricting the offerings to those octaves within human hearing, it probably isn't possible that any songs are actually original in the legal sense. I personally don't think there are any original lyrics anymore, just vaguely derivative musings, certainly no original thought. We are overwhelmed by offerings, and only the most obvious are caught and prosecuted by copyright office or opposing counsel. In this group are talentless business types who could care less about art, music, entertainment, but vector in on giving something away for free and want every stray whistle of a popular tune to be billed. And to get their cut.

There are, as usual, misperceptions and hypocrites on both sides. The great composers are, for the most part, dead as their copyrights. There are active and good composers of orchestral music these days, but nobody knows or cares because the social template for the enjoyment of such music is gone. So, there are no Mozart's about to be deprived of income due to Napster in any but a notional sense. It's just the Metallicas. And the Ricky Martins and Billy Ray Cyruses. Really, is anyone furious? Especially when at this point, hardly anyone can point to financial losses because of the Napsters, the Scours, the others.

The thieves, and technically they ARE thieves, say with straight faces that they are just sampling artists and then, artistically inspired, rush out to buy the CDs which they wouldn't have done had they not had the opportunity to hear the new music. This is probably true in limited cases, but the majority of downloads are of already popular tunes and artists. People want things for free.

I've been in music, off and on, since the late 1960's, and I can tell you with a straight face and truth in my heart that artists could receive their current net performance income and ticket prices could be about fifty percent of what they are now. Maybe a lot less.

Entertainment is a bloated, corrupt, and fatuous occupation. The people who suck off the other fifty percent are the ones most concerned with Napster. They sense that if the artists can record and put on the net their new music, either for free as publicity or for the cost to the consumer that reflects the sudden vanishing of industry flacks, their whole lifestyle and point to existence is gone. It has been gone since the invention of the fax machine, but nobody knew it or wanted to. The Internet changed all that. This is good. With luck, however it ends, the Napster debate will expose just how fat and useless most people in the entertainment industry are. With their removal, the financial tension goes.

But what about buying a DVD movie and putting it on the WEB. Or a digital video and audio recording of last night's N'Sync performance at LA. Would it affect ticket sales next month in Cincinnati? The current technology necessitates about a seven week download period for anyone so motivated, but that will change, probably soon, and people could see brand new shows and movies for free without paying a dime. It's possible now, in fact, and it happens. Is it fair, do they have the right, and will anyone make movies again if nobody will finance them, given there is no source of income? If not movies, why music?

I get tired of listening to the chemically impaired intoning for the ages that music is simply out there and we all have the right to hear it. Sure, but the people who perform it deserve to be compensated for it, I think a lot. If musicians really only wanted to be thanked and embraced by an endless conga line of dreadlocked, unwashed, unemployed deadbeats screaming far freakin' out into their faces, maybe the world would be better. Don'cha think? Hey, after a half century of rock and roll, it's time to quell the crap and see what's been learned. The truth isn't out there, it's right here, in our faces, and nobody on either side of the Napster debate chooses to deal with it. See you next week.